2010 record: 3-0 (0-0 in Big Ten)
2010 Sagarin: 26
2009 record: 5-7 (1-7)
2009 Sagarin: 81
Coach: Rich Rodriguez (3rd year, 12-16)
Series: Michigan leads 51-9
Last Michigan win:9/26/2009 (36-33 in Ann Arbor)
Last IU win: 10/24/1987 (14-10 in Bloomington)
TV: 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
After an expected 3-0 start, the Hoosiers host Michigan tomorrow in a game that has been highly anticipated since IU's 36-33 loss in Ann Arbor last year.
Before the season, IU's offense was well-regarded and the defense was considered inexperienced and suspect. After three games against weak competition, if anything, the impressions of the two units are even more extreme. While IU's running game has been inconsistent, the efficient passing game has carried the team. IU's total offense is a solid but far-from-overwhelming 414 yards per game, but the passing game accounts for 304 yards per game, good enough for #11 in the nation, and IU's scoring offense average of 41.3 points is #10 in the nation. The rushing offense has been far from disastrous, but IU hasn't been able to run at will to this point, which is a concern considering the level of competition.
Michigan's offensive numbers are even more impressive. Against a tougher schedule, Michigan ranks #2 in total offense (562) and #1 in rushing offense (331). Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson leads the nation in rushing (not the nation's quarterbacks, but everyone) with 172 yards per game. Robinson is averaging 182 yards per game passing as well and is completing 71 percent of his passes. His yards-per-game total is deceiving because he playing little last week against Bowling Green because of a minor knee injury that isn't expected to affect him this week. In Michigan's first three games, Robinson averaged 223 yards per game. And he still ran for 129 yards in less than a full half of action against Bowling Green. Simply, Robinson is the most dangerous player in the country.
This is a major concern, because IU's rushing defense has been particularly troubling. IU ranks #92 in rushing defense, allowing 177 yards per game. While IU's rush defense was reasonably good against Western Kentucky, both Towson and Akron were able to run disturbingly well against IU. Michigan is a dramatic step up in quality of competition and has the nation's top rushing offense. This isn't a good formula.
Still, Michigan's defense, albeit against better competition, is even worse. The Wolverines are #93 in total defense and are allowing 265 passing yards per game. Before the season, the conventional wisdom was that Michigan's secondary was a trouble spot, and apparently that has been the case so far. Michigan's rushing numbers have been better, but their pass defense has been torched for 265 yards a game. Certainly, Michigan's pass efficiency defense is middling rather than awful (#55 nationally), and some of the big numbers are a result of 381 yards by pass-happy Notre Dame (which played nearly half the game without its starting quarterback). Still, UMass and Bowling Green had productive passing days against the Michigan defense.
Robinson, already the carrying most of the burden for the Wolverines, will be even more important to Michigan's success tomorrow, because Michael Shaw, who has 44 carries for 245 yards, is out of tomorrow's game. That leaves Robinson, who is the nation's leading rusher (not just among quarterback, but for everyone) and Vincent Smith, who has gained 172 yards on 44 carries, as the other rushing threat. Robinson has spread the ball around to several receivers. Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree, and Martavious Odoms all have between 146 and 226 receiving yards. On defense, while the Wolverines haven't been stout, they do have 6 interceptions on the season, including two by Jonas Mouton, and, like IU, the Wolverines are plus-one per game in turnover margin.
So, how can IU win this game? First, of course, IU will have to score a lot of points. The offense, even compared to last season's pre-conference performance against lackluster competition, seems improved. The passing game looks very impressive to date and Ben Chappell has improved on his solid 2009 performance with improved accuracy and decision-making. Unfortunately, the run game, while not horrid, has been unable to overwhelm defensive lines with much less talent than Michigan's. While it may seem counterintuitive, I think establishing the run is the key to IU's offense tomorrow. I worry about what will happen if Michigan doesn't have to respect the run and can devote most of its personnel to pass coverage. On the defensive side, IU's outlook is bleak. The Hoosiers struggled against Towson's mobile quarterback, so it's hard to imagine much containment of Denard Robinson. On the other hand, as good as Robinson is, he's leading something of a charmed existence. He has thrown 80 passes and has run the ball 79 times, yet he has thrown only one interception and hasn't yet lost a fumble. Even for a player as outstanding as Robinson, those numbers are unsustainable. As many yards as IU's 2009 defense allowed, they offset such gains to some degree by forcing turnovers. The 2010 IU defense hasn't done that yet, but tomorrow would be a good time to start. Yes, the best insight I can offer for defensive strategy is to cross our fingers and hope for turnovers. You got anything better? This would not have been a fun week to be Joe Palcic.
Most prognosticators seem to be predicting a 7-10 point Michigan win. Objectively, it's hard for me to disagree. Still, even by the lopsided standards of the IU-Michigan series, we are overdue for a win. Why my head inclines me to agree with the consensus, I'll go with emotion and predict that we find a way to end up on offense for the final possession. Indiana 45, Michigan 40.